Israel-Palestine Conflict Becomes the Focus of a West Hollywood City Council Debate

The ever-evolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict was center stage at the West Hollywood City Council meeting on Monday night during a debate over a measure that would have effectively halted the screening of a documentary about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

That documentary, “1948: Creation & Catastrophe,” is scheduled to be screened in the City Council Chambers on April 16 as part of the city’s Human Rights Speakers Series. It had been delayed from a screening scheduled for Dec. 12 when Council members Lauren Meister and Lindsey Horvath questioned the film after it was criticized by Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami and other members of the city’s Jewish community. Horvath said that by showing it the city would “give license to people who advocate for eliminating Israel, we are creating an environment where people feel unsafe.”

The rescheduling of the film led to pressure from the Council members to put on Monday night’s agenda an item that would have given the Council more oversight of such arts and cultural series. The item also sought the Council’s direction on what to do about currently scheduled events, essentially permitting another hold on the screening of “1948.”

Fifty-three people signed up to speak before the Council about the “1948” screening and nearly 300 sent email messages or letters to the Council expressing their opinion about the film. All but ten of those messages opposed the screening. Most of the messages opposing the screening were worded the same and emailed from people across the country, indicating an organized campaign to sway the City Council. The standardized messages claimed that Jewish Voice for Peace, a leftist organization that has supported the film and seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, “overtly calls for Israel’s destruction.” That claim has not been documented.

Directors of “1948: Creation & Catastrophe” Dr. Ahlam Mutaseb and Andy Trimlett (YouTube)

Those opposing the screening included John Erickson, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and head of the National Organization for Women’s Los Angeles chapter. “Why are we programming a film that would offend the Jewish community?” he asked. He likened the screening to the city showing anti-abortion or anti-LGBT films.

Other Jewish speakers framed their opposition to the film around LGBT issues, with several noting that Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that supports LGBT rights. (However, while Israel is regarded as the most progressive nation when it comes to LGBT rights, homosexuality also is legal in Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq.) Daniel Blatt, a West Hollywood resident, said the film misrepresents history and questioned whether the city would screen a film that misrepresented the Stonewall Rebellion or issues around gay conversion therapy.

Among those speaking in support of the documentary was its co-producer, Ahlam Muhtaseb, a professor of media studies at California State University, San Bernardino, who has done fieldwork in Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. She and the film’s other producer, Andy Trimlett, were to have participated in a panel discussion after the Dec. 12 screening.

Muhtaseb told the Council she has worked on the documentary for over 10 years, interviewing a wide variety of people involved in the creation of Israel and its settlements in Palestine, including Israeli soldiers. Muhtaseb said she was opposed to anti-Semitism and described the effort to ban screening of the film as anti-Semitism.

Hussain Turk, a gay Muslim lawyer who lives in West Hollywood, said that by blocking the screening of “1948” the City Council would be supporting stereotypes of Muslim as anti-Semites because they criticize Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“It isn’t just intellectually lazy or stupid to equivocate hatred of Jews with hatred of the injuries committed by the Jewish government, it is also morally wrong,” he said.

Several Jewish speakers also supported screening the film. Karen Pomer, a former West Hollywood resident who now lives in Los Angeles, criticized speakers who called the film anti-Semitic. “The Jews are not a monolith,” she said. We don’t all think like these people. What I’ve heard them talk about is anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism. Nobody is saying anything about Islamaphobia. If you block this film you are supporting Islamaphobia.”

While Councilmember Meister had raised concerns about the film in December, she spoke out in favor of the screening at Monday night’s meeting, saying she had watched it over the weekend.

“I found that there was no hate speech,” Meister said. “There was no anti-Semitic commentary. Did the documentary have a specific point of view? Yes. But many documentaries do. Did I feel threatened by this film? Absolutely not.

“I received a lot of letters starting with ‘I’m disappointed and angry.’ Well, I have to be honest, so am I,” Meister said.  “I am disappointed and angry and embarrassed that with everything going on in this country that we are seeing this level of intolerance in West Hollywood. I am embarrassed that we are contemplating shying away from controversy because it’s an uncomfortable topic …

“What’s next, should we run upstairs to the library and start burning books that we don’t like that haven’t met somebody’s threshold for truth? … I’m not willing to violate the oath I just took tonight to uphold the Constitution. I’m not willing to give up separation of church and state. And I’m not ready to stifle free speech …

“If you think it’s okay to start banning films, then maybe you don’t deserve to have the word ‘progressive’ on your resume.”

Councilmembers John Duran and John Heilman also supported the screening, although Heilman said he was concerned that participants in a panel discussion following the screening didn’t represent all points of view.

Duran described the screening as a First Amendment issue, saying people had a right to see the film and state their opinions about it. He also opposed suggestions that the screening be delayed a while longer for further review. “I don’t think we need to delay anymore,” he said. “I don’t think we needed to delay in the first place. If you want to come and picket, you come and picket..”

Horvath, who said she hadn’t seen the film, said her concern was the process that allowed it to be chosen for the Human Rights Speakers Series. That choice was made by Impact Media, a firm with which the city contracts to choose films for its series.

Horvath said the film had not been screened by other government organizations but instead had been hosted by academic institutions. “For me, it is unclear why the city would spend resources to show it,” she said.

Mayor John D’Amico, who joined Horvath in the failed vote to support the measure that would have halted the screening, said he was disappointed that city staffers hadn’t gotten additional input from the community before rescheduling the film.


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Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D. (Historian)
Guest
Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D. (Historian)

In the debate over screening the film “1948,” Councilmember Meister did indeed rise to the Mountain Top with her magisterial, spiritual, elegiacal, smart, elegant revelation of her own Israeli bat mitzvah and having seen the film, giving her advice that it is not anti-semitic, advocating the public see it and make up our own minds, against demands of the censorious crowd assembled in Chambers. Meister asked, in the tradition — without citing them — of humanist Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel, among other Hebrew scholars and erudite/cautious historians of all religions/ethnicities such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “What’s next, should we run… Read more »

Dawood Davis
Guest
Dawood Davis

It’s good to see that West Hollywood is at least willing to have “some” objective representation of the struggle of the indigenous Palestinian people as opposed to the completely baseless islamophobic racist narrative that dominates the vast majority of the mainstream media!

Michael G. 
Guest
Michael G. 

I bought the film from Amazon Plus yesterday, watched it and thought it was a very fair look at a very tragic situation. It’s on Amazon plus and is only $4 to rent. Lindsey Horvath’s was so outspoken in her objection to its showing the film should have taken advantage of watching it before the council meeting. I also checked out Newspapers.com, and there were 100s of articles in 1948 regarding the Isreali-Palestinian situation in US and British newspapers at that time supporting the content of the film. While doing graduate work at the American University in Beirut in 1968,… Read more »

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

The Palestinians know how to work the media, Michael. They have staged attacks that never happened and the media do all the work for them, and in doing so, give them credibility. They make false reports.

There are large communities of Arabs who live peacefully in Israel. How welcomed would Jewish Israelis be if that were reversed?

michaelz
Guest
michaelz

Lauren Meister was sensational ….!!!

Mitchell Karin
Guest
Mitchell Karin

Can you tell me why my response to the Rabbi’s comment that I posted last night is missing today but my previous comment shows under the Rabbi’s comment instead?

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin

That’s because all comments are individually moderated by me to ensure that they don’t include slanderous or libelous statements and that they focus on the issues rather than other comments. Your comment was just approved. It was not approved immediately when you submitted it at 11:20 pm yesterday because I was asleep at that time. I worked from 8 a.m. Monday to 2:30 a.m. Tuesday covering a variety of things, including the City Council meeting. And sometimes a guy just needs a rest.

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

It was frustrating that the opponents of the screening seemed to think there was only one version of history, only one narrative in regard to the founding of Israel. Council member Lauren Meister made a courageous and powerful statement affirming our City’s commitment to diversity, including diversity of opinion. I think the notion that this screening was tantamount to showing anti-choice or homophobic films is false and intellectually dishonest. As a person who considers himself to be a progressive, I don’t see how we can help find peace in the Middle East if we cannot at least be aware of… Read more »

Norbert Weinberg
Guest
Norbert Weinberg

These are the comments that I sent to the members of the City Council: Dear Members of West Hollywood City Hall: I am writing as Rabbi of Hollywood Temple Beth El to oppose the sponsoring by the City of West Hollywood of the film “1948: Creation and Catastrop. . .In so doing, I speak on behalf of thousands of residents of West Hollywood who have been members or participants in our programs and activities over the years. Many of these are themselves refugees from the Holocaust, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East who suffered persecution, and for whom… Read more »

Mitchell Karin
Guest
Mitchell Karin

Thank you Rabbi. You raise some very good points about this film being shown on city property. It is particularly inappropriate where there is no balance and the other side is not being heard. I don’t believe if a leader of any other minority group spoke out against a film being shown on city property with no balance they would be dismissed so easily.

cmarybrien
Guest
cmarybrien

What are you afraid of? The truth. We live in a country of free speech and if you don’t like it then it’s time for you to leave USA. Israel receives 7000.00 an hour from the USA, 38 billion over the next 10 years. Palestinians aren’t armed to defend themselves in the ways Israel is. There are countless war crimes coming from Israel. And we also need to be able to question the contradictions in ALL the world religions: Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc. That’s the real elephant in the room. The Israeli lobby is essentially silencing ANYONE who dares to… Read more »

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

Well said.

Michael G.
Guest
Michael G.

Unfortunately, in the United States organized religion is not taxed. For a country that claims separation of church and state we are continually subjected to the opinions of religious leaders. When the film was peviously delayed a local rabbi was using city council members to get her message across. Which was don’t show the film. So the growing number of non-religious must subsidize what I call the religion business. You pay a tax to go to the movies and then you have to subsidize those heading to a church or temple. Since the sky God people don’t pay taxes. Also,… Read more »

jimmy palmieri
Guest
jimmy palmieri

AGREED

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

More charity originates in churches and synagogues than from any other source. Houses of worship exist to give. If they are taxed their charitable giving will clearly be diminished. If the government used the money they received from churches in the form of taxes that money would pass through so many bureaucracies there would be little left over to help the same people who the churches help directly. Many years ago during a time of great need, a church paid my rent and bought me groceries for several months. I will forever be grateful for that and will never forget… Read more »

Mitchell Karin
Guest
Mitchell Karin

What would be nice is if a pro Israeli documentary was screened before or after this documentary and then there was a thoughtful balanced civil panel discussion. Perhaps we could serve as an example of a place where both sides can safely discuss the issues. In the end however it seems like both sides in the US are becoming as polarized as the parties in the middle east with insults and accusations flying in both directions.

Ilish
Guest
Ilish

Palestinian voices are ALWAYs filtered through a zionist perspective. How about we do something truly new like allow Palestinians their voice unencumbered by Zionism.

Don edwards
Guest
Don edwards

“Where there is injustice somewhere [Palestine] there is injustice everywhere “. End the occupation!

jcarlson
Guest
jcarlson

Good to hear that the film will be screened. I still think this is the released by Al Jazeera is the one to watch also, it’s free online and really was eye opening to me.

The Electronic Intifada has obtained a complete copy of The Lobby – USA, a four-part undercover investigation by Al Jazeera into Israel’s covert influence campaign in the United States.

Watch the film the Israel lobby didn’t want you to see: https://electronicintifada.net/content/watch-film-israel-lobby-didnt-want-you-see/25876

enemyofthestate
Guest
enemyofthestate

Uhhh….. Just where in the Constitution does it say that the West Hollywood City Council is responsible for foreign policy?

Between Palestine and Duran, is the city council conducting any of the people’s business?

amani barakat
Guest
amani barakat

Many thanks to John Heilman, John Duran, and Lauren Meister. I’m especially grateful to Ms. Meister for doing her due diligence by watching the documentary prior to the meeting. Her informed decision made all the difference despite her concerns last December. Her educated response truly restored my faith in the integrity of the process. The lesson here ignorance is never bliss. This McCarthy likes witch-hunt that is led by Israel’s lobby is another clear attempt to silence Palestinian voices. Using the anti-Semitism card in a deliberate attempt to prevent legitimate criticism of the injustices committed daily by Israel is just… Read more »

Julia Stein
Guest
Julia Stein

Obviously the well-organiized campaign against the film as the article said, “Most of the messages opposing the screening were worded the same and emailed from people across the country, indicating an organized campaign to sway the City Council. The standardized messages claimed that Jewish Voice for Peace, a leftist organization that has supported the film and seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ‘overtly calls for Israel’s destruction.” The claim against Jewish Voice for Peace is a garbage lie. I’ve seen the film ‘”1948” it is excellent, researched for 10 years, has… Read more »

jimmy palmieri
Guest
jimmy palmieri

The brouhaha surrounding this film has simply caused the Barbra Streisand effect. No one should be banning films, books, reading materials or the press. I may hate this film after I see it. That will be my view and my view only. Others will have theirs. Follow Duran’s advice. Don’t approve? Protest. Big and loud, but non violently as that, of course, will dilute your message. Religious leaders can weigh in and give their opinions, but I don’t subscribe to any religion, so I would prefer that their opinion does not interfere with my freedoms. IN ANY ARENA.